By the time you are reading this, I hope Victor Osimhen would have led the frontline of the Super Eagles to ‘destroy’ the national team of football minnows, Guinea Bissau, last night at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium, Abuja.
Anything short of a clear victory, with goals to shore up Osimhen’s chest in his chase of that exalted but difficult title of Highest Goal scorer in Nigerian football at international level, held since 1994 by Rashidi Yekini, and before that by ‘yours truly’ since 1981, would be totally unacceptable at this stage of Nigeria’s football development. Guinea Bissau are not only one of the smallest countries in Africa in size, there is a whole planet between them and Nigeria in football.
Having said that, I hope, at the time you are reading this on Saturday morning, the Eagles would have won well.
Outside of that match, what has engaged my mind these past few days and dominated the media space is the matter of Ike Sorounmu, the shy, quiet, gentleman and former goalkeeper of the Super Eagles. Before now, Ike’s voice in Nigerian football has never risen beyond the decibels of gentle instructions doled out on the training ground of clubs and the national team as goalkeeper-trainer. He has played role of an assistant coach very diligently for many years and through several regimes of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
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By the way, the only former goalkeeper to have served as Chief coach of the national team in Nigeria’s history is late Carl Odw’yer in the mid-1970s.
This past week, Ike’s voice has been rather loud, bitter and strident, unusually rising above the din of the match between the Super Eagles and the underdogs from Guinea Bissau.
Ike Sorunmu, nick-named Anobi and Omo Alaja, by his fans and friends, was very angry with the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, about the treatment meted to him; in the manner he was disallowed from being a part of the national technical crew for the Guinea Bissau match, and in the complete silence about the non-payment of money owed him from his recent services to the national team. In addition, nothing was said about his request to be offered either a permanent appointment, or to be engaged on a contract for his services in the national team. Meanwhile, he had sought, without success, for refund of the expenses he personally incurred, known and approved by the NFF, in honouring his most recent invitations to the national team.
Even as he awaited the official call-up to the team last week, what he received instead was a call from an officer in the NFF secretariat directing him not to bother to report to Abuja for preparation for yesterday’s match. Instead he was to be replaced by a goalkeeper trainer from the Junior national team who had just completed another national assignment.
Ike, thereafter, called up his compatriot in the technical team of the Super Eagles, an assistant coach also, Finidi George, MON, to find out his own fate. Finidi’s response was similar to his own experience – he was told not to report to Abuja too.
Ike was angry. For the first time since his relationship with the national team began as a player and then a coach, Newspaper headlines screamed his unjust, humiliating and unceremonious sacking from the national team, setting him up for a confrontation with the NFF.
To make matters even worse for Ike, since the beginning of the year, he has been trying to make sense of the situation of the Houses the Federal Government promised the successful national team of 1994 for winning the AFCON. Last December, at a public ceremony in Ibadan, the keys to the houses officially handed to him and Mutiu Adepoju by the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN. The houses are in the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) estate in the Oluyole Area of Ibadan.
Immediately after the ceremony, an official of the FHA approached the two recipients, retrieved the keys of the houses from them. He claimed there were some repairs to be done on the bad doors leading into the houses, and that the keys would be returned to them within days.
Days have become months, yet nothing has happened. The gentleman that collected the keys from them is somewhere in the FHA headquarters in Abuja, no longer picking their calls, and not offering any explanation for not doing so.
So, Ike Sorunmu has been a very frustrated and angry man. His patience has worn thin, not helped by the recent seemingly humiliating treatment by the NFF.
Without question, Ike has limitations in what he can demand from the NFF. The NFF has a right to appoint whoever it chooses to serve as assistant in the national teams. Those choices have never been an issue of contention. Assistant coaches have never been really influential. Those appointments have never been done on merit. They have always been products of political discretions done by whoever is in charge as President of the NFF. Even the Technical Director has been powerless in process. That may explain the silence of the present Technical Director of the NFF, Mr. Austin Eguavoen, throughout the present imbroglio.
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The NFF also has the right to determine what kind of arrangement it chooses to have with the technical crew of its national teams, provided such a arrangement is documented and honoured.
Club coaches were seconded, even as Chief Coaches, to the national teams in the past. They handled specific matches. But that was when most national team players were from the domestic leagues. Since the players started coming from Europe and their chief coach was also hired from there, the era of hiring local coaches to serve as Chief Coach on an ad-hoc basis ended.
With assistant coaches, the arrangement is not cast in stone.
Finidi George is a fulltime coach of Enyimba FC. That is his primary assignment. Joining the national team to execute specific matches is a privilege that he must be compensated for with each assignment. He does not require a permanent appointment with the NFF.
In the case of Ike, unfortunately, he is not working for any Club in the domestic league at the moment, and obviously requires full-time engagement to sustain his ‘touch’ with football either with the NFF or with a club. Either will make him meaningfully fill up what would otherwise be idle time between assignments.
The present ad-hoc arrangement will not work for him. His engagements would only be from one match to the next, and inviting him cannot be sacrosanct under such an arrangement. Knowing his situation, a better arrangement needed to be made with him and for him.
The excuse given by the NFF that national team assistant coaches are in a rotational arrangement does not make sense. Coaches are never rotated from a pool and assigned to different age graded teams. This would be technically counter-productive.
Even if Mr. Paseiro thinks that the young trainer of the national junior team would serve him better, he should have handled the delicate situation of Ike with more maturity so as not to ignite negative feelings and reactions that his handling of this case has generated.
Ike Sorounmu deserves more respect than was meted out to him. He deserves to get his refunds owed him from previous assignments. The Federal Government, under the office of the Minister of Works, should also complete the task of handing over the houses promised the members of the Super Eagles to the players rather than the present shenanigans we are witnessing.
My advice to the Olunla of Wasimi, Chief Ike Sorounmu, MON, is to take things easy, to cool down his ‘temper’, to seek to be in the good books of the NFF, to find himself a good club to work for within the domestic league or abroad, so that he does not depend on the national teams’ assignment for his livelihood, and also, does not lose touch with training goalkeepers by waiting for an appointment or contract that may never come because the NFF is too broke to hire permanent assistant coaches now.
The present public confrontation is not good for anyone.
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